Backbench rebels warn of battle over identity card Bill

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Labour MPs warned yesterday that Tony Blair would have a fight on his hands over his plans to speed up proposals to bring in compulsory identity cards for Britons.

The rumblings of another backbench rebellion came as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said he hoped to publish a draft Bill on ID cards within the next four weeks. He admitted there were "misgivings" about cards.

Mr Blunkett said his Bill would enable the scheme to be made compulsory without fresh legislation being introduced. In November the Government said a decision on a compulsory scheme would not be taken until 2013, but a rethink is under way following the Madrid bombings and the arrest of nine suspected Islamic terrorists in Britain. The Independent revealed on Monday that the Government could bring in a compulsory scheme within five years.

Labour opponents of ID cards fear the Prime Minister and Mr Blunkett are using the heightened threat of terrorism and the problems in the immigration service to fast-track the scheme, despite the doubts of some cabinet ministers. Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, accused the Home Office of trying to "sneak in" the scheme through the back door. He said it would not solve the problems of terrorism, immigration, asylum-seekers or benefit fraud and that there was "a lot of discontent" about the issue on the Labour benches.

Mr Mitchell warned that ID cards could be forged and that previous big computer projects handled by the Government had failed disastrously. He said: "The devil is in the detail, not the principle."

David Winnick, a member of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "I don't believe the case for ID cards has been proven at all. If it is to be voluntary, then, inevitably, it will become compulsory, and that would mean that everyone would have to carry one and produce an ID card when requested to do so.

"If the emphasis now is on terrorism, the fact remains that, in Spain, identity cards are compulsory from the age of 14 onwards. In what way did that stop the massacre which occurred?" He added that, in the 11 September attacks all the attackers - although they would not have needed ID cards - were in the country legally.

Support for cards came from Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who told The Spectator magazine: "I was against them until about a year and a half ago, because we did not have the biometric technology to ensure the truth of people's identity. Now we have that. We need to know who's coming in and out of the country, and who's in the country."

Sir John said that ID cards would enhance civil liberties. "You could use your identity card to defuse a situation by proving at once who you are. We don't actually know who is in London at the moment. We don't know what the population of London is.

"ID cards would not only assist in the business of stop and search, terrorism, organised crime, but would also assist us to know better how our welfare, transport, hospitals and education system can deal with the number of people in London."

Mr Blunkett insisted yesterday that his plan had secured the wholehearted support of the Cabinet, but Patricia Hewitt, the Trade and Industry Secretary, said there would have to be "additional benefits" before the cards became compulsory.